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Sony A7r and A7 in the Mirrorless Age

by Guy Mancuso

Hello everyone and let me add my first article on the new GetDPI format. This is long overdue for me and just trying to pinpoint what I want to write about. What’s interesting to me is after 38 years as a working Pro I have so much in my brain its hard to spill it out in one article but let me try with this new Sony wonder that has hit the streets recently.

First lets go back in time and I am sure a lot of folks can go back with me here and talk about our long history in photography that was truly based on either a ground glass or a optical finder not to mention slapping mirrors. We all dearly remember 4×5, 8×10 view cameras and all those wonderfully Nikon/Canon/Minolta/Pentax/Olympus/Contax and than all the Medium format cams that where built around film and optical finders. Even in 1990 when I started digital everything was still built around optical finders. Today the world has changed and as some of us refuse to make the change to EVF and even more exciting the move to a mirrorless system which has become a evolutionary development in photography .
The question becomes are YOU willing to make the jump and the question for this article is why I did. LOL

Well let me first get my disdain out for EVF in the beginning. I thought it was the worst thing around , shooting lag between frames cant follow focus and just being blacked out was the most disturbing thing around and worse it looked electronic and completely took a OPTICAL guy for a dizzy experience. I really hated it, no it was not just I don’t like it does not fit me kind of thing but more like are your kidding me where is the coat hook I’m hanging my straps up and retire kind of feeling.
Not sure if this is anyone’s quote but here it is Evolve , Adjust or Just Check Out.

Obviously checking out is not a option for a working Pro unless we turn to some other profession. So what to do is really the question as a optical guy and a mirror slapper do we try something fresh and new. When the Sony’s where announced it really sounded good on paper and the fact that it was a similar sensor to my D800e made it even more intriguing since being a lens whore I could just about fit anything to this and for me its always about the glass and the sensor with a body in the middle to hold them together these Sonys started to feel more like a digital back to me. Hmmm that certainly peaked my interest as I just came from Medium Format digital backs and that was the highlight of them was to put them on different platforms. The Sony’s here can do almost the same thing and not only that do it with unique setups like tilt and shift and through many brands and formats of lenses through adapters and such.

So as I was thinking about it and maybe getting one for the First quarter of this year but a good friend here on GetDPI went out and bought a A7r and after shooting it a day or so decided it just did not fit his style. So he sent it to me with a deal I could not refuse and as a Italian boy from the East Coast you just take the deal and move on. If you know whats good for you.

So my first thought and this is really odd is when I looked into the EVF it actually looked like a Optical finder and the light went off in my head that hey finally someone nailed the EVF. So the evolution began for me and after about a week playing with it , I decided in my infinite wisdom to go all in on it. Retirement just went away and I joined the evolution. Now I cant downplay this enough as the whole article up to this point was exactly about this jumping from the old style of photography and taking a old dog like me and moving me forward. For me it is a exciting time as it gets that spark back in you and you WANT to go out and shoot. But first these Sonys had to hit my checklists and they are long and also pretty demanding. The one thing that was a big issue was only one or 2 lenses on release and like the Leica S2 on release it was really tough to buy into a system that is so limited. But wait here on the Sonys you can immediately adapt just about any brand lens to it and go forward. So that out of the way can it do the work was the big question. Now I did a couple simple jobs that where fairly easy on the system to start. Okay that was easy but what about shooting a big runway show in LA that my wife owns, runs and is CEO of and I shoot the entire event twice a year and shoots about 15 thousand images in a couple days with a infinite amount of road blocks as a system. First the system needs to be able to shoot high ISO, Do continuous AF as models walk down the runway and need to get about 6-10 frames off in that time. I need long lenses, fast frame rates, great buffer and battery power to let me shoot continuously for hours on end. Besides all that shoot in camera jpegs that are stellar good as I have no time to process 15 thousand images. So what to do, first I shot the A7 and vertical grip for portrait mode and a extra battery .Went with a 70-200 ZA A mount lens with the Sony LA-EA4 E-Mount to A-Mount Full-frame Adapter than put the camera in crop mode so I could get a 300mm out of it . Turned off image review so I would not get any black out in the EVF when the review came up in the finder so with that gone I could use continuous focus and still be able to see while shooting those 6-10 frames. Now I bring up this scenario as given the Sonys ability to use adapter systems within its own line of A mounts you can still shoot AF until new FE lenses come to market . Than on top of that you can just about bolt any lens to these cams with adapters and shoot manual focus. So given the A7 has the Phase detection system I decide this to be my fast AF cam as 24mgs is plenty for this type of work and any PR jobs that come along and require fast AF type shooting. Im using my A7r in place of my D800e and using manual focus glass to do my other client work and landscape photography.

Before I go forward here the LA gig was a huge success for me in terms of getting the job done and done well with these Sonys and I was very impressed with the output quality and its abilities. Sure I may have missed a few here and there but that is pretty normal and obviously I am using a Non Native lens so it does slow down the AF abilities and such but it really did a decent job of it. Maybe not Nikon or Canon type of speed but until we get native lenses we wont know for sure how good this could be more on a sports level. Time will tell on that.
Now at this point I want to talk about some features that really made me jump over to the Sony side and EVF, Mirror less type system. First lets talk about what was missing in my Nikon. Live view was good and refreshing coming from Medium Format systems. But it still lacked focus peaking which these Sonys have and lets talk about these features that really intrigued me for one and more important added a arsenal of shooting options.

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Just recently I went to Yosemite to put another GetDPI workshop on and this gave me the chance to really shoot the A7r in the environment that really lends itself to shooting the best glass around and taking advantage of some of the best features on these Sonys. First the articulating arm is just a really nice feature to have as you can have camera low to the ground adjust the LCD to face up and eliminate that laying on the ground in mud situation or worse laying in dear, cow or worse bear poop. ROTFLMAO

Seriously it is just nice even at eye level to look directly into the LCD at maybe a up level and work with the focus peaking which to me IS THIS SYSTEMS HIGHLIGHT. To me this was what let me switch system was this focus peaking and especially with non Native lenses and many folks adapting every dang lens made in the history of photography to these Sonys it is by far the best feature they have to be able to zoom in on a subject and watch the focus peaking just highlight the area you want in focus. Since its reading the working aperture and its reading off the sensor directly you just cant miss focus. Its really that simple. In all my years I never seen anything like it and to be honest it frees up all that technical babble up in your head to concentrate on the art of photography which totally gets lost when shooting with a lot of these high tech gadgetry. I teach photography and have to say I see more folks struggle with the technical babble and not concentrate on the real important part of shooting and that is the ART of it.

Now I could go on here about all the technical advancements and even some of the downsides to this system but I feel the forum discussions covers a lot of that and I really don’t want to get away from the advancements that these new systems are bringing to market. Now I would be remiss in not bringing up Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus and others that start EVF and mirrorless in other formats and such but nothing yet has taken us to the 35mm DSLR high MPX realm yet, so Sony gets a lot of credit for coming to market with this and lets also remember they are still a generation 1 product with a lot to build on. The future looks bright in this area and if Sony and Others can keep innovating than maybe we will see a positive change in Photography and us aging old dogs get some fresh eyes to see new Art ahead of them.

As I close out this first article I look forward to expanding more on this system and others like it as we March into the future of Photography which has been my entire life since I was about 16 years old and a working Pro at 19. So this industry has consumed my whole life and I still love it and always look forward to sharing with others how to get the most out of it that your willing to learn. Products like this are exciting , innovating and anything that helps us as Artist is a big welcome in the industry. Please continue to follow the discussions here on GetDPI on this system and others as I feel as one of the Founding Fathers of this site to be one of the best around to learn and share .

Focus Result 3 (B, 8, 4)

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Thanks

Guy

15 thoughts on “Sony A7r and A7 in the Mirrorless Age

  1. kuau

    Guy I must say I thought I would never see the day that you embrace the EVF and Sony.
    Congrats on your new system.
    For us guys and gals over 50 or have poor vision the EVF is not only a godsend but a “must have” IMHO.
    Wow have times changed.
    Though I only have the A7, and A99 there are still times I like to shoot my Sinar arTec with an old 33mp Leaf back with a CCD sensor, I still believe that there is some magic pixel dust in CCD over CMOS.

    I really think you need to start a new website
    GETSONY.com

  2. pwithero

    I recently purchased the a7r and have fallen for it big time, BUT I thought I could get an adapter from Metabones for all my Canon EF lenses and ordered one. UNfortunately, the lens fits into the adapter but will not engage the turning / locking mechanism. Infact, we tested every Canon EF lens and none would engage, leaving us without a solution. Metabones lists successes from other users, so is there anyone out there who has had success with this adapter?

  3. etrump

    Great article Guy. You almost caused me to take the plunge and pick up an a7r. Fortunately I had a peanut butter sandwich and the urge left me.

    Seriously, fantastic information. Thanks for the post.

  4. Guy Mancuso Post author

    Hi Jerome to your first point you are very correct. With the Sony 4 adapter and the 70-200 ZA lens I could not take advantage of any of the AF abilities that are with the FE glass. Actually it’s quite limiting in use compared to using the FE which gives you more focus points, ability to change the focus area to small, medium and large and also less options than the FE. So in affect I actually was handicapping myself. But there is no 70-200 FE lens YET so until that time it will be limiting for the A mount unless they change the adapter design . I do have the the ZA 85 1.4 and the 135 1.8 now.

    As far as focus peaking and EVF the new Sony is the best EVF I have used and its a acquired taste coming from optical. Focus peaking I really like along with the magnifier and zoom features. I rarely miss using manual focus with these tools.

  5. jerome_m

    1: When you used the LA-EA4 for the fashion pictures, you added a complete phase detection system to your camera, effectively turning it into a A99. That is not representative of the capabilities of the A7 camera with E-mount lenses.

    2: After having tried the EVF on the NEX-7 for over a year, I should say that I find peaking a lot less useful than I thought. What the camera indicates as “in focus” sometimes isn’t.

    3: To my eyes, the quality of the EVF is still noticeably inferior to the one of a good ground glass. But it depends on what one defines as a “good ground glass”. The one of the D800 is noticeably darker as the one of the Sony A900 for example (probably because the D800 uses a LCD overlay).

  6. Godfrey

    Interesting article, Guy. Thanks!

    Like you, I’ve been doing photography for many years, although only occasionally as a full-time career.

    For me, the advent of digital cameras with fully electronic imaging systems was something I expected from the middle 1980s, and looked forward to, as I had extensive experience with digital imaging systems starting from then when I worked for NASA/JPL. The hurdles that had to be crossed were quality, size, speed, power, and price … the digital imaging system I had at JPL cost $30M and took up a a pair of rooms to put 1024×1024 images on a 22″ graphic display in 8 hours of processing time. How times have changed!

    My first “real” digital camera was a Sony F707 in 2002, which had an EVF. Took amazingly good photos despite the miserable viewing experience. The Panasonic G1 in late 2008 was the first EVF that worked well enough to say “Ok, we’re getting there.”

    The Olympus E-M1 viewfinder last Fall finally achieved that “I can barely tell the difference” feel, and the Sony A7/A7r does the same while also giving me back, finally, the 35mm format in a form factor I find satisfactory. The Sony finally nets back what I said to myself in 2000, musing on the digital revolution and what I wanted. From my journal dated March 13, 2000:

    “The digital cameras coming up look good and the prices are starting to become approachable. What I’d really like is something at most the size of this Nikon F3+MD-4, 35mm sized format with about 6000×4000 pixels, enough storage to hold 1000 exposures, enough power to fill the storage, that can take all my favorite lenses, and costs about $2000 max.”

    It’s been 30 years since I started waiting for this to happen, and 14 years since I wrote that … finally the product has arrived. And it’s good. Not perfect, not for everyone even yet. But good enough for what I want to do with it. :-)

    G

  7. Massimo

    Guy, I will be getting an A7 shortly, mainly to shoot landscapes on a tripod, and I am most intrigued by its focus peaking ability too. One thing I cannot decide from all the related posts here on GetDPI is if focus peaking can be used to visualize the actual depth of focus at a given aperture – IMHO this could be done if the circle of confusion triggering the peaking is small enough that the nearly out of focus objects would still print sharp … can you enlighten me on this subject (hope my description was clear enough)?

    Greetings from Italy,
    Massimo

    1. Godfrey

      Massimo,

      When “Show Picture Effect” is enabled for the AF lenses the aperture is stopped down to taking aperture all the time so you can see the depth of field in the viewfinder. (Adapted lenses of course are always at taking aperture.) When you enable focus peaking and rack the focus in and out slowly, you can see the zone of focus sweep through the field of view. But sometimes it is subtle and hard to discern if there aren’t sufficient edges for it to highlight.

      However, just having the aperture stopped down and the viewfinder bright allows you to see the DoF much more easily than with an optical reflex camera’s DoF preview button or on the ground glass of a field/technical camera.

      Hope that helps. G

  8. fotografz

    You are right Guy, change is hard … especially after a lifetime of practice with an OVF.

    However, there is a point where the revelation suddenly hits you … mine was when a pal came by with his A7R sourced early from Hong-Kong. All I cared about was how it worked with the M50/0.95 Noctilux wide open. Zoom/focus peaking at 0.95 was that revelation. That I can use my A mount ZAs, and the new FE AF lenses that seem to be off to a stellar start, is just gravy.

    It all is still so astounding … 36 meg, FF that fits in the palm of your hand … thus my nickname for it … ” Mighty Mouse” : -)

    - Marc

  9. Stefan Steib

    Guy, maybe it is still a bit eary for many others to follow to the EVF road, but especially for people over 50 like myself, this is a godsent ! Frankly: I still have very good eyes, but they are not as supersharp as they were when I was 20. I never had much trouble focusing my optical finders, but this “thing” is – as you say- changing the whole way to work with. Especially if you are doing a lot of stuff with shift and tilt as I do. You just have to see how the focus n”cloud” gets red once you tilt your sharpness area over a subject, you can SEE when you hit the point. A wet dream for a viewcamera user and delivered by a very small camera (too small for me without the grip !). With the batterygrip it does all it should do, I can rest a of my hand on the camera, the buttons are suddeny on the right places and everything feels balanced. And one last point:put some good lenses on this litte beast and it will spill out miracles.I have now used the varioust pieces of glass on it: my absolute favourite – the Sony SAL 1,8/135mm ZEISS.
    The Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm is nearly identical but at open aperture there is a tiny bit more cream on the f1,8, for portraits it´s a killer. I love this lens and will buy it the next days.
    Side effect: it´s even cheaper than the Apo Sonnar. Cons: it is big and heavy, but who cares with these results ?

    Greetings from Germany
    Stefan

    1. Guy Mancuso Post author

      Thanks Stefan.I actually thought about the Sony Zeiss 1.8 but had this 135 F2 from my Nikon kit. Its a amazing lens and i have a hard time making that switch but I keep thinking about it. LOL

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